Data is the New Currency

A central challenge of Industrie 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is secure standardized data and the exchange of information between devices, machines, and services from various industries. The OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) standard (IEC 62541) is the only mandatory protocol required in the criteria checklist of “Product capabilities for Industrie 4.0 Products” provided by the German Industrie 4.0 Platform. Explicitly, the OPC UA information model is required.

Information modelling?

It sounds too complicated for most companies and engineers -mostly they want to talk about the “HOW” to exchange data and information, not the “WHAT.” Interestingly, many devices and machine builders already provide an information model detailing data and interfaces. And we humans have adapted our way of thinking to that of the computer, namely in bits & bytes & hex codes -hopefully well documented. The new world of devices is helping us to understand the “things” as they now offer “services” and furthermore, their meaning. This SoA (Service-oriented-Architecure) approach is nothing new in the IT world – but now this SoA approach moves into the things themselves.

Thinking about the connectivity (the “how”) is nice, but the real key for IIoT is to understand the Things, their data and behavior: the “what.” And that’s where OPC UA helps as THE industrial interoperability framework: device and machine builders describe object oriented information of their systems and define the access rights with integrated IT security.

Who is defining the “WHAT”?

Other associations such as the AIM organization for AutoID industry (RFID reader, scanner, etc.), VDMA trade groups such as injection molding machines, robotics, and machine vision (and 35 more VDMA vertical markets) and multiple other organizations already define their information via OPC UA companion specifications. Supporting this standard does not mean just data exchange but also additional special services can be offered in parallel. So differentiation inside the device or outside with external cloud services will be the key. Intelligent devices support parallel multiple information models about the dedicated functionality itself, but also their energy data or MES interfaces, for example. The importance of these industry and cross industry-information models in the future will rise sharply to reduce engineering effort. Manufacturers that do not support these standards could be out of business in the future.

A Real World Example

For example, Microsoft has deeply integrated OPC UA into their Azure cloud which allows bi-directional communications with OPC UA enabled devices:

  • D2C (Device to Cloud): pushing telemetry data to the cloud
  • C2D (Cloud to Device): manage devices with optional command and control

But more important, it’s so easy to understand the meaning of the data and services for Microsoft. This is the key for IIoT – and that’s exactly why OPC UA is mandatory for Industrie 4.0.

Do you still describe the meaning of your data in each project you work on? Why not become part of the biggest ecosystem for industrial interoperability, OPC UA, and really use and analyze data instead of describing them?

Stefan Hoppe
Global Vice President
OPC Foundation